Saturday, November 08, 2008

California Goddam! (With apologies to Nina Simone )

Election elation… like a spiritual orgasm or simply a loosening of a long held burden, Tuesday was a night of bliss for anyone who has suffered through these past eight years of treason, mediocrity, veniality, and incompetence. The election of Barack Obama is in every way poignant and meaningful. Symbols matters. Pathos matters. There has been a perceptible shift in public consciousness and the moment will live on as its own entity forever, like a man on the moon.

And like a man on the moon, the moment itself will be of no practical importance save for what it serves as a catalyst for. Four days later is not the time to start registering cynicism. I think I can live off the glow from Tuesday night for at least eleven weeks. And perhaps even eleven weeks and one day further, because seeing Barack Obama sworn in with Michelle and his little girls by his side, I can say to anyone, in any country, that’s MY president. That’s what WE are all about.

But that was a true statement in 2000 and 2004 as well. Symbols matter. We carry darkness in our hearts. George Bush was my president, and for eight years we DID stand for torture, ignorance, war, and, recently, economic degradation due to criminal greed.

This is why, in the midst of the euphoria of seeing a man named Obama win the presidency of the United States of America… I have to look to my own state, and say “California, Goddam!

Goddam you, California for saying YES to bigotry and hatred in the form of Proposition 8!

“Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer”

Goddam you, California for looking with love and affection at an African-American man and then spitting in the faces of men and women simply because you cannot accept secular consecrations of same-sex matrimony!

“Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer”

Goddam you, California for putting the comfort of chickens and pigs raised for slaughter above the civil rights of your fellow citizens!

Goddam you, California for running the YES on 8 campaign premised on the fear that parents are too stupid to speak to their children about issues of sexuality!

Goddam you, California for running a cowardly NO on 8 campaign that further stigmatized same-sex marriage by tacitly apologizing for bigotry (“no matter how you feel about marriage…”)!

“You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality”

Goddam you, California for being on the front lines of the civil rights marches, student demonstrations, sit-ins, and immigration rallies of the past and not stepping up to help your brothers and sisters in their time of need!

Goddam ME for letting the enthusiasms of the moment distract me from the fight against ignorance and oppression… just because I’m not one of those directly impacted!

This is one of those times I used to wonder about, times in history when individuals and groups were being oppressed. I used to wonder where were the people of conscious? How could this have happened? Where was the courage? Where was the organized outrage? Where was political will?

“I've been there so I know
They keep on saying ‘Go slow!’”

I used to assume that in our enlightened day things would be different. Naturally we would be more rational, more fair, more graceful in our dealings with our fellow citizens. We are California. We have a Republican governor who thinks universal health care is a good idea. We have a Hispanic mayor for one of the largest, most diverse cities in the world. We have a three-tiered higher education system and research facilities that are the envy of world.

We have medical marijuana!

I thought WE were different from those “hick” states that want to ban the teaching of evolution or restrict a woman’s access to health care. I thought we were the “New Frontier,” the zenith of the best of moderate progressivism.

I thought… but I forgot, too. I forgot about Rodney King. I forgot about Japanese internment. I forgot about Armenian exclusion laws. I forgot about Pete Wilson. I forgot about Zoot Suit riots. I forgot about May 1 and Macarthur Park. I forgot about “local’s only” surf Nazis. I forgot about Daryl Gates and choke-holds. I forgot about Rampart. I forgot about Prop. 187 .

I forgot about a lot because you don’t want to remember the stuff that hurts. The stuff that makes you think that maybe we aren’t that good. We aren’t that liberal. We aren’t that civilized.

What hurts is that, this time, I can’t point my finger at the LAPD, or a Republican governor or a big corporation and say “you are to blame!” I can only look at my fellow Californians. I can only look at myself.

We aren’t that good.


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